This week I’ve had the great joy to visit two friends whom I met at boarding school in England when I was ten years old. We have had so much fun laughing and sharing memories. We’ve talked about our schooldays in Berkshire and Oxfordshire, our various marriages, children and now grandchildren.
I hadn’t been back to England in many years even though I moved from the US to Portugal in 2019. Covid made travel almost impossible for two years. The silver lining in that awful cloud, was that my two friends, Julia, Janie and I, reconnected and we’ve been doing a weekly phone call via video technology every week for the past 2 1/2 years. It has meant a lot to us. We have given each other great support, knowing that we are just a phone call away when one of us needs help.
For more than a year we talked about making a trip, all three of us, to our old school, St. Mary’s Wantage in Oxfordshire. The school closed in 2008 and merged with another school elsewhere, but we were curious what had happened to the buildings.
We also wondered what had happened to some of our favorite haunts; the fish and chip shop and King Alfred’s Kitchen which sold the most wonderful fudge! There was also another bakery which sold little chocolate and macaroon treats called “Jap Cakes”. And of course, there was the tea-time favorite “Lardy Cake”. It sounds terrible, but it was the most yummy sweet doughy concoction.
Sadly, time moves on. The buildings were recognizable but the places had changed purpose. King Alfred’s Kitchen is now a Chinese restaurant, the chip shop is a hairdresser’s salon, we couldn’t find the Jap Cake bakery and none of the modern coffee shops sold Lardy Cake.
The old school ain’t what it used to be
We did however find what used to be St. Mary’s. Located near the center of town, the school used to have extensive grounds with lawns and gardens. I imagine developers were rubbing their hands in glee when the school closed because most of the buildings: classrooms, dormitories, the gym and swimming pool, were all torn down and the lawns removed to make room for high density apartments. It was hard to recognize the old place.
I should also explain, Wantage is known as the birthplace, in 849, of the Anglo-Saxon king, Alfred the Great. He was famous for defending England against invading Danish Vikings and burning some cakes. The legend is that he was taking refuge in a peasant woman’s home and she asked him to watch cakes she was baking by the fire. But the king, distracted by weighty matters of state, let the cakes burn and got a scolding from the peasant woman.
Follow my adventures and learn tips about living in Portugal and get a copy of my novel, “The Power of Rain”, available from Amazon.